Conservation group sees treasure in the former Great Black Swamp


The Great Black Swamp was a forbidding expanse of marshes, wet prairies, swampy deciduous forests, and sand ridges left when the glaciers retreated thousands of years ago. This seemingly impenetrable swath of land covered some 1,500 square miles of northwest Ohio and northeast Indiana.

The vast swamp is gone, but the name remains prominent, and it is attached to an organization that works to both preserve and protect the natural and agricultural treasures of this region for future generations.

The Black Swamp Conservancy is a nonprofit land conservation group that will mark its 20th anniversary soon as it moves closer to the milestone of bringing 100 properties under its land trust protection.

These perpetual land conservation agreements the conservancy reaches with landowners are voluntary legal arrangements between a landowner and the Black Swamp Conservancy that specifically limit a property's uses in order to protect its conservation values. By placing the land in such a trust, it restricts development in perpetuity, with future owners bound to follow the guidelines of the agreement.

The land remains in private ownership, but the natural and agricultural values are protected. These agreements might cover wildlife habitat, land with significant historical value, or land with a highly scenic element.

The Black Swamp Conservancy currently has preservation agreements with landowners in 12 northwest Ohio counties, including a number of sites on the Lake Erie islands. In 2012, the group added eleven properties to its list of conservation holdings, and now has 12,875 acres of farmland and natural areas under its protection.

“It has been a great team effort, built on the foundation of a lot of hard work,” said Kevin Joyce, who has headed up the organization since 2005 as its executive director.

“Everything we are able to do begins and ends with the landowners. We’ve got a great relationship with conservation minded families in northwest Ohio, and with that in place, I see our future as unlimited.”

The conservancy will mark its two decades of work in the field by moving indoors for the evening on March 15 for its “Blue Grass and Green Acres” benefit in the Lenhart Grand Ballroom at the Bowen-Thompson Student Union at Bowling Green State University.

“This is our celebration of 20 years of Black Swamp Conservancy, and the culmination of a lot of effort and commitment from many dedicated people,” Joyce said.

“We’ve got an unbelievably talented board for an organization of our size, and we’ve been blessed with a great staff, a terrific group on our advisory board, and a strong collection of volunteers. That is what makes it work.”

The 20th anniversary event will feature food, live bluegrass music by “The Wayfarers” and a performance by the Toledo Symphony String Quartet. Fund-raising auctions will offer several blockbuster class adventures to the winning bidders.

There is a bird-watching trip with author, naturalist and birding expert Kenn Kaufman and his wife Kim, the executive director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory.

The outing will take place at Peninsular Farms, one of the showcase properties protected by a land trust agreement with the conservancy. This Sandusky County tract has more than 400 acres of diverse habitat, along with two pairs of nesting bald eagles.

Also up for bid will be a two-person prime whitetail deer hunt on 260 acres of managed woodlots and farm land in Michigan’s Hillsdale County. Conservancy board member Steve Taylor hosts the hunt, which includes accommodations at the lodge on the property and meals.

The auction also includes a guided steelhead fishing package for up to four people on Conneaut Creek and the Grand River. The trip includes a night’s stay at a lakefront cottage in Geneva, lunch at a winery, and dinner at Chops Grille & Tap House.

Joyce said the bidding on the steelhead fishing trip is open to anyone, whether they plan to attend the 20th anniversary event at BGSU or not. Bids can be submitted by emailing Joyce at the address.

Tickets for the 20th anniversary celebration are $40 and can be purchased on-line at the website.

SEAMANSHIP COURSE: The Toledo Sail & Power Squadron is offering a course in seamanship over eight Thursdays, beginning on March 21. The classes run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. and take place at Jefferson Junior High, next to Whitmer. The instructor is Chris Hoover, who includes interactive enhancements in the course, such as marine radio practice, a demonstration of navigational aids and interactive passing/crossing situations. The fee is $75. For registration or information, contact Hoover at 419-343-0251 or at the email address.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: or 419-724-6068.